Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Do You Want A Friend?

Piper, Noel. 2009. Do You Want A Friend? Illustrated by Gail Schroonmaker. Crossway.

It is what it is. No more, no less. A picture book for Christian parents to share with their children.

It's hard to wear several different hats. That is, to view the same book through different eyes.

On the one hand, I am a Christian.

On the other hand, I am a book reviewer. I have read a lot of picture books. I have certain standards and expectations. I know what I like and dislike. Some of these standards are strictly subjective, others are more objective in nature. When I was going to library school--training to be a librarian--there were several things that were frowned upon. A book being didactic was one of them. (Racism and sexism were a few of the other things frowned upon. I think we can all agree those are bad. But there's also a sect--in a way--of adults who frown upon all things cutesy-wootsie, syrupy sweet, and well, dinky.)

There's no doubt about it, Do You Want A Friend, is didactic. It's preachy and message-y. I'll approach this in two ways. On the one hand, the message that Jesus wants to be your friend and that he'll be the best friend you'll ever have is a good one. I'm not denying that. I am thrilled to see so many biblical promises used (and illustrated) throughout the book. I think the more Scripture you're exposed to as a child, the better. I think the fact that the illustrations show application of the Scripture is a good thing. I think it is important for kids to know that the Bible is for them. That they can cling to verses, to promises.

On the other hand, I thought it was a little too simplistic. The first spread shows a young boy and a moving van. He's just moved to a new place. He didn't know anyone and he was feeling lonely. "So he sat on the front steps and cried out, "Friends! Frie-e-e-ends!" He wanted a friend."

The very next page, he not only has one friend, he has A LOT of friends. His problem of loneliness, of being friendless, was so superficial, so fleeting that I'm at a loss of words. Yes, some kids have a way about them that they can make friends with anyone, anywhere, in just a minute or two. You know the expression, He (she) has never met a stranger. Well, some people are "blessed" in a way with that. But I would venture forth a guess that most people aren't like that. That it takes more than hollering out "Be my friend" to find a friend, to make a friend.

This reminds me of Ernie catching fish by yelling out "Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy." It's a nice fantasy that it could be that simple, that effortless. But it's not reality.

The truth is that it is not that easy to find friends. A good friend is hard to find. Some kids, sad but true, spend many of their growing-up years without ever finding friends. Some kids struggle with loneliness longer than five minutes. Of course, that would have been a sad book to read. The story of a child who can't find friends, who feels left out, who feels alone, who feels sad. But the reality of it is--in my humble opinion--that it is these kids who need this book more. Who need the message that Jesus is friend to the friendless. That Jesus loves them. Wants them. Values them. The fact that Jesus is not only Savior but friend? The fact that they can turn these feelings of displacement, of loneliness, of sadness to Him? That would have been a great message. A message that spoke loud and clear about why Jesus is the best thing ever.

Of course, the fact that this one kid has an easy time of making friends isn't a reason to not like the book. After all, it's not his fault that he's just so likable that every person young or old wants to be his friend.

Is the book didactic, yes, but for folks who believe the message, this doesn't translate into being a bad thing. Is the book slightly dinky, yes, but again if you believe the message and believe in the quality of the message over other things--then you'll be quick to forgive its shortcomings. (I wasn't crazy about the illustrations. But at least the author didn't try to rhyme. The text is straightforward, and I respect that.)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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